Books: The Promise of Verticality

An eerie, powerful first novel frames a vivid metaphor for freedom--racial and otherwise

Whether the subject is love or alienation, the invention of rich, new literary metaphors is difficult enough. When the subject is race in America, however, it's almost impossible. In his first novel, The Intuitionist (Anchor Books; 255 pages; $19.95), Colson Whitehead has solved the problem, coming up with the freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.

His touchstone image: the modern elevator, that everyday mechanical wonder whose promise is to open up the sky, to loft human beings equally into the heavens. Without the elevator, space is scarce, the boundaries of the city...

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